Summer fun with numbers

By Bruce Sims
for the Baldwin County
Board of Education
Posted 6/13/07

FAIRHOPE — One of the most feared subjects in school is math. Making it fun, however, not only takes away a student’s fear, but as they develop their problem-solving skills they find themselves developing confidence that can carry them through …

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Summer fun with numbers

Posted

FAIRHOPE — One of the most feared subjects in school is math. Making it fun, however, not only takes away a student’s fear, but as they develop their problem-solving skills they find themselves developing confidence that can carry them through higher forms of mathematics in the years to come.

“We’ll be holding Mancala and More: Around the World Discoveries Camp July 16-20, here at Fairhope Intermediate School,” said Margaret Dumas, who along with Linda Waselkov will be teaching the camp. “Our hours will be from 9 a.m. until noon each day. During that week we’ll be introducing the students to ethnomathematics.”

The Fairhope Educational Enrichment Foundation is sponsoring the summer math camp, which will take students back to the beginning of time and show them how math has been used not only by various ethic groups, but through history as well.

“We’ll be looking at math, as well as geography, art and science from a cultural perspective as we explore five different countries,” said Dumas, who explained that ethnomathmatics was developed in the 1980s and is now taught in college to education majors.

Dumas said the campers would also learn more about the geographic aspects of math, such as comparing each country’s population to the population of the United States, as well as where it is located in terms of longitude and latitude.

“The activities we’ll be doing relate to the countries we’ll be studying,” she said. “For example, to accompany the telling of a story, men of the Chokwe people in south-central Africa traditionally made sand drawings, called sona, to illustrate their tale. These highly stylized geometric illustrations, which were based on mathematical computations, also served as memory aids for the storyteller.”

In addition to taking away the fear of math, Dumas and Waselkov also want to demonstrate that math is truly for everyone.

“We want the camp participates to understand that mathematics was developed and used by many cultures and ethnic groups, not just white males from Western civilizations,” Dumas said.

The campers will enjoy such games as Mancala, a 3,000-year-old game of Egyptian/African decent, creating origami figures, playing Go, which is of a Chinese/Japanese origin, Orthello and even puzzles.

“You solve a puzzle by figuring out patterns,” she said. “Patterns are the foundations of math, as well as reading, social studies and the sciences.”

Fractals, Dumas said, are used in computer software to make the machines run faster and more efficient.

“We use fractals in so many things without even knowing it,” she said, explaining that cornrow hairstyles, rap music and even agricultural projects used them. “The students become fascinated with them when they find out how they are being used.”

Dumas said that she and Waselkov would also be teaching the Vedic Sutras, which are Hindu in nature.

“By memorizing the basic Sutras, or verses, a student can take a difficult number and add and subtract with it without using paper,” she said. “This is one of those mathematical tricks that can help open all sorts of doors to a student’s math progress.”

Dumas said her father, Douglas Keaton Taylor Sr., a retired Internal Revenue Service agent, used all sorts of math tricks in his work.

“When I was a student in school, I never really cared all that much for math,” she said, “but once I started learning various shortcuts and tricks to solving problems my confidence in my math abilities began to increase. Now I’m addicted to it.”

FEEF is sponsoring four scholarships for the upcoming camp.

“The cost per camper is $75,” Dumas said. “By making math fun we take the fear away, and that in itself can be priceless.”

For more information on Math Camp, contact Fairhope Intermediate School, 928-7841.